In Falmouth, the Vote was Extremely Close; in Amesbury, it was Unanimous!

It went down to the wire on Buzzards Bay at the annual town meeting in Falmouth, where a resolution in favor of changing the flag and seal of Massachusetts was debated on Tuesday night, April 11th.

The resolution was placed on the warrant as a petitioned article, with signatures gathered by Dr. Sandy Faiman-Silva, life-long social justice advocate and 2021 Barnstable County Tim McCarthy Human Rights Champion Award winner.

Faiman-Silva introduced the resolution, which had the support of the Falmouth selectboard, with a detailed slide presentation documenting the impact of Colonial displacement and violence against Indigenous nations of the region.

Her eloquent speech touched on the history of the symbols contained in the current flag and seal of the Commonwealth, including the broadsword poised above the head of a composite image of an Indigenous person, modeled after the sword of the military commander of the Plymouth colony, Myles Standish, who is notorious for ambushing and killing Indigenous people.

Her speech was countered by Kevin Doyle, a Falmouth expert in European heraldry and Revolutionary War history, who maintained that the current state symbol honors Native Americans and should be left just the way it is, with increased efforts to teach its history in our public schools.

“The Indian stands strong and proud in the center of the coat of arms, where he belongs,” Doyle told town meeting voters.

His speech received a hearty round of applause.

Faiman-Silva received support from town meeting member Melissa Keefe, who noted that the Special Commission on the Seal and Motto, tasked with recommending a new design for our flag and seal, includes six Indigenous leaders of the Commonwealth. She pointed out that the Commisssion has voted unanimously in favor of changing the state symbol.

She asked, “What are we saying to our Native American neighbors if we say No to this?”

The question was called.

The NO voters were loud and proud, while the YES voters were polite and muted.

The Falmouth moderator, Rep. David Vieira, (who happens to also serve as one of the 19 members of the Special Commission on the Seal and Motto) was in doubt following the voice vote. He called for an actual count of the room, conducted electronically.

It took a minute and a half for the vote to be counted.

The result was 98 in favor of the resolution, 94 opposed, making Falmouth the 58th community in Massachusetts to call for changing the flag and seal.

A half an hour later and one hundred and ten miles to the north, on the New Hampshire border, the city council of Amesbury voted unanimously in favor of changing the flag and seal.

Back in January, Eliza Goodell strolled through the winter farmers market in Amesbury and gathered 30 signatures on a petition to bring the resolution to the council for consideration.

She set up a meeting with the city councilor from her district, Roger Deschenes, and handed the petition to him. He promised his support.

Friends from the Amesbury Friends Meeting met with their district councilor, Tony Rinaldi. He signed on as well.

By Tuesday, April 11, two more councilors had stepped forward to support changing the flag and seal.

During the public comment period, Goodell gave a short speech. She told the councilors, “Symbols have weight.  They have meaning.  They have power. It is time to change the Massachusetts flag and seal and create a new official state symbol that reflects the mutual respect and connection we want between all people who share the Commonwealth today.”

A member of the Amesbury Friends spoke too, and she said, “The Quakers have been reviewing the history of our relations with Indigenous People. That history is not a good one.”

Councilor Deschenes called the current flag and seal of Massachusetts, “A grotesque cartoon of history as it now stands.”

Council President Nick Wheeler, after speaking of his genealogical research into the Colonial roots of his family tree, and noting that not one but two of his great, great grandfathers had died at the hands of Indigenous warriors in the town of Lancaster during and after the conflict known as Metacom’s (or King Philip’s) War, concluded his remarks by saying, “On behalf of my ancestors, I apologize.”

With a unanimous vote of support, the City Council made Amesbury the 59th city or town in Massachusetts to formally endorse changing the flag and seal of the Commonwealth.

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